When You Join the Teapot Tempest, You Know Your Bloggy Groove Is Returning

Not that I have time, really. But I suddenly wonder if I’m not just doing what Ilyka Damen does:

This blog is small. And something I’ve realized over the past couple of weeks is that I unconsciously work to keep it small. I do this in one way I can’t help and in one way that I can. The way I can’t help is, I’m not very good at this. The way I can help is, when my traffic levels get beyond my comfort zone–and that zone is tiny, I mean under 100 visitors a day if you strip out the search engines, because I basically relate to other human beings from a position of terror*–I stop posting. I tell myself I don’t have anything to say, even though I usually have TONS of things I’d like to post about at the time, and I just fuck off for a week or two or, as has been rather acidly observed by readers in the past, months.

Human psychology is some crazy shit. Anyway, the way I can tell that the bloggy groove is coming back to me is that I’ve a sudden impulse to weigh in on the latest rendition of Frilly Feminists vs. Hairy-Legged Dogmatists. Not that I have any special insights on the social implications of mascara (though, for the record, my personal grooming practices have largely been determined by my early acceptance of a forced choice between intelligence and femminess), I just wonder why so many people insist that they are not and will never be role models.

I dislike Molly’s distinction between feminists who are role models, and feminists who are not, because the reality is that I osmose social cues from anyone I happen to admire, whether or not they hold themselves out as role models or occupy a position most people would recognize as that of “role model material”. Since this process is largely opaque to me I am certainly not in a position to honor my models’ feelings on the matter. Denying that one is a potential role model does about as much good as denying the existence of global warming.

But I’ve never quite gotten my head around the idea of role models. In elementary school, when we had to pick someone who was our role model and write about them, I could never think of anyone, because I didn’t consciously pattern my actions after anyone else in particular and wasn’t especially interested in doing so. What extra obligations do role models incur?

I try to be a decent human being. I extend the Golden Rule to my own role in forming culture: I contribute to culture as I would have others contribute, I enforce the social norms that I would have others enforce on me, etc. And I’m comfortable with the idea that this is a moral obligation. Knowing that I am a potential role model is mildly irritating, inasmuch as it reminds me that despite my imperfections I am obligated to be as decent a human being as possible and watch my smack-talkin’ mouth, but attempting to avoid such reminders just smells like ducking out on my responsibilities.

Inasmuch as the concept of “role model” is associated with the maintenance of stupid social norms, like the virgin-whore dichotomy or not using the word “fuck”, then I can see why people might want to avoid it… but that’s not what we’re talking about here. So tell me, non-role-models, what’s the problem?


  1. ilyka wrote:

    “I could never think of anyone, because I didn’t consciously pattern my actions after anyone else in particular and wasn’t especially interested in doing so.”

    Yeah, exactly and me too, which is maybe why the whole concept makes me uncomfortable. I never did well with “who’s been your greatest influence” or other related essay questions, either.

    I think Ron S. at Feministe registered confusion about one aspect of the role model concept that resonated with me even more: Where’d this idea come from that once you promote someone to role model, you’re entitled to tell them what to do? How to model better?

    Clearly some feel differently about it, but “you’re a role model, now act like one” just strikes me as a very arrogant and presumptuous thing to do to a person. That may just be a gut-level response I have against years of religious instruction to “set an example.” I always thought that example business deprived me of the freedom to mess up, to make mistakes, to be human, which I think even Molly would agree is the one freedom women never have. We’re always on notice from someone.

    Lots to think about here. Thank you very much for the link (and I’m relieved I’m not the only one who suffers periodic blog burnout).

  2. Chris Clarke wrote:

    You know what? I want to be just like you when I grow up.

  3. yami wrote:

    I see a continuum between a gentle “hey, is this really something you would want others doing to you?” and “you’re a role model, so act like it!”… and actually I think lots of people just feel entitled to tell others what to do, and justify themselves with whatever’s handy.

    Chris: Awwww!

  4. Lab Lemming wrote:

    Just out of curiosity, does your blog resurgence correspond with a research transition from “brainstorming new hypotheses and research directions” to “soul-crushing menial testing of those possibilities”?

    I think the power of a role model is to demonstrate that a particular career path is in fact achievabe by real live human beings.

  5. yami wrote:

    More like a transition to “stop daydreaming and work on your exam proposals, dammit”… but it’s quite possible.

  6. asfo_del wrote:

    It’s sad to me that the word “feminist” has taken such a beating. I have always considered myself a feminist and will continue to do so, but I feel that part of the responsibility for making the term unpalatable to many women — while the lion’s share of the blame lies squarely with the intentional disinformation spread by the right — is on the shoulders of feminists who are seen as quibbling over details, like worrying over proper terminology or fussing over slight, offhanded remarks, that many women don’t see as relevant to their lives. There are young girls who hate themselves because they don’t look like magazine covers and married women who are pressured by their extended families not to have any interests or even friendships outside their homes because it inconveniences and unsettles their husbands. If all we can offer them are discussions on whether it’s okay to shave our legs (just a recent example) how are we helping them to be able to recognize and fight the oppression that is crushing their own lives? Aren’t we making ourselves an easy mark? Wouldn’t a “role model” be someone who wants to know what’s ailing women and want to address their concerns rather than dictate what those concerns should be? Many widely read feminists on the web seem to me to be dictating more than listening. Dissenting viewpoints are often shunned, which only leaves preaching to the converted.

  7. yami wrote:

    Has “feminist” ever been a shiny trendy identity, though? I didn’t live through the 70s (or, in any relevant sense, the 80s) but I seem to recall seeing lots of disparaging jokes about “women’s libbers”.

    I think my leg hair is relevant to my life. It doesn’t have as large an impact on me as, say, bias against women in science, but it is a lens through which I can examine society’s expectations of myself and my body. Blogging’s greatest asset is also its greatest weakness: the personal voice that allows me to focus squarely on my body and my concerns. If I do it right, I can convince readers that because leg hair is a concern to me, it might matter to other women as well.

    Insert caveats on how this approach can lead to racism and classism (my concerns are those of a white middle-class woman, natch) here.

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